Symbols and Reconciliation
This was first published in The Messenger – the paper of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton.
Recently in Wetaskiwin the local Canadian Tire store rose the Treaty 6 flag over its store. There it flies surrounded by the flags for Canada. The store owner said it is necessary to move forward and to recognize on whose shared territory the store sits and to acknowledge the need for better relationships with the First Nations in that area. For those living in Wetaskiwin and in Maskwacis this is an important symbol of reconciliation in the communities.
In parishes all around our diocese you will hear someone acknowledging the traditional territory on which the church sits at the beginning of Sunday worship. A symbol that recognizes that we are all treaty people and that we are all neighbours on this land.
Why is this important you may be asking? Aren’t concrete solutions better than symbols? The answer is yes and no. Concrete solutions are important but symbols help us to change the conversation. If we all begin to think that where we live is treaty land, then we begin to think of everyone who lives here as human, for we all share the land together. We all begin to know that we are each other’s neighbours and that we are all loved by God.
In our churches we have a number of symbols that speak to us each week – bread and wine for the Eucharist, the different colours for the different seasons, the robes our clergy wear and so many more. These symbols are the ones that speak to our faith and enrich our faith, they are symbols that we would not be without and would be angry if they were taken away from us.
How many of our churches now have a smudge available before worship starts? Not as many as could be or should be, but some do. How many have First Nations art and other symbols up in their buildings? Some do and we all need to find ways to make room for more. How many of us have invited First Nations leaders to pray before an event or during Sunday worship? Some have, more could. See how the conversation changes when we make our symbols present and more concrete.
This past Christmas I was given a ribbon skirt by one of the members of the Reconciliation Team at Immanuel, Wetaskiwin. Gloria and I have become friends. Her input into the work of reconciliation is so important. Now unless you are from a First Nations community or family, and especially if you are a settler, you aren’t likely to have a ribbon skirt. Gloria’s gift to me of this beautiful symbol was a gift of reconciliation, an understanding that our relationship, our bond as women, our bond as sisters of faith, has come to the point where she has welcomed me into the community of women who wear ribbon skirts. My ribbon skirt and my wearing of it is a symbol of reconciliation, it is a concrete action of relationship, it is wearing the prayers and love that were put into the making of it.
Let’s look for those symbols of reconciliation and realize how they have changed the conversation between settler and First Nations, realize how they are making concrete the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and realize that neighbours are seeing each other in the light of reconciliation. Symbols of reconciliation can and will lead us to concrete actions of reconciliation.